MMAM celebrates new literary arts gallery with book talk


Heidi Hanson

Author Aimee Nezhukumatathil and illustrator Fumi Mini Nakamura came to the Minnesota Marine Art Museum for its first first literary art exhibition. The event was hosted on Jan. 28, 2023 and featured Nezhukumatathil’s book, “World of Wonders”.

Heidi Hanson, Features Editor

For its first literary art exhibition in the brand new literary arts gallery, the Minnesota Marine Art Museum (MMAM) invited author Aimee Nezhukumatathil and illustrator Fumi Mini Nakamura to come discuss their 2020 book “World of Wonders” for a member and media day. On Jan. 28, people gathered to listen to the artistic processes and insights to both the author’s and illustrator’s contributions to the “bewitching” and whimsical piece of nature writing. 

“World of Wonders” was a product of the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, and is now a New York Times best selling book being sold in various retail spaces, including Barnes and Noble. It features a countless number of organisms, including fireflies, axolotls, vampire squids and even cara cara oranges. The lyrical writing of each creature sparks curiosity in readers, which makes sense considering the intended audience of the book before its publication. 

“So this was actually born of a place… I didn’t sit down to write a book. I was writing little answers to my kids,” Nezhukumatathil expressed. “So I had two pairs of eyes that I wanted to see these stories: a six year old and a nine year old.”

Because the book was catered toward Nezhukumatathil’s children, each and every animal or otherwise living thing has a very whimsical and curious energy, while still having a balance of factual information and personal anecdotes. Despite the positive energy being so important during such a negative time as quarantining during the pandemic, Nezhukumatathil stated that publishing companies that would take the book offer were hard to come by.

Nezhukumatathil’s illustrator for “World of Wonders” is New York artist Fumi Mini Nakamura; the pair actually met in person for the first time a couple days before the Minnesota Marine Art Museum event. Nezhukumatathil found Nakamura on instagram and said that it was at that moment that she knew it was “Fumi or nothing” for the project. 

“It almost felt like being a penpal, which was weird,” Mini Nakamura said. “[This was] especially about the time I was really trying to figure out my life and I was wondering, ‘am I doing okay? I haven’t been able to be an illustrator or [have] an online interview,’ but then the opportunity came up.”

One of the most notable aspects of Mini Nakamura’s work among her intensely intricate and beautiful pieces of art at the beginning of each chapter of “World of Wonders” is her execution of the barreleye fish. Barreleye fish is one of those species who can only live under the immense pressure of the deep sea; they have transparent heads that reveal their organs, which makes the animal a feat to illustrate. 

“I just didn’t want to give her a headache,” Nezhukumatathil said, explaining her concerns in giving Mini Nakamura the barreleye fish to illustrate. “She didn’t even flinch; and now that is one of the only illustrated renderings of barrel fish in the world.”

Nezhukumatathil expressed her hopes and passion for adding to the pool of Asian-American literature, especially in classrooms. “This is not to gatekeep,” Nezhukumatathil stated. “This is to be accessible for someone in Finland, someone whose language is not English (Heidi Hanson)

Nezhukumatathil also expressed her passion regarding substantial representation in literature, and hopes to add a level of Asian-American literature, especially in classrooms, with this book release. She hopes to say to Asian and Asian-American children that their names belong in pieces of literature and nonfiction pieces. 

It meant a lot to Nezhukumatathil to have an Asian American illustrator, as she stated that names like Nezhukumatathil or Nakamura were not often seen and often excluded from big anthologies of nature writing in her experience. 

“This is not to gatekeep,” Nezhukumatathil stated. “This is to be accessible for someone in Finland, someone whose language is not English, someone who just wants a memory of what it’s like to be filled with wonder.”

 The Minnesota Marine Art Museum is hoping to bring more aspects of art and literature combined in the upcoming exhibits through the literary arts gallery. Scott Pollock, the executive director of the MMAM expressed the overall goal of the gallery and hopes to see many people gather to celebrate art. Tuesdays in the MMAM are free for students, and becoming a member of the museum comes with specialized exclusive events and decreased entry fees. 

“We’ve been thinking strategically about who we are and who we want to become,” Pollock said. “That idea of the generative capacities of art and what it can do; bringing people together is like, so wonderful. It’s such a blessing.”